After enlightenment, when Buddha walked from Bodhgaya to Varanasi. He decided to give his first sermon in Varanasi. After answering a question of a monk on the way, he reached Varanasi.
Here Ashwaghosh has described the Varanasi as the grandiose in the book called Buddhacharita. Unfortunately this portion of Buddhist literature is not available in the original Sanskrit. But in the fifth century it was translated into Chinese language by a scholar named Ashvaraksha. This translation is available now. This Chinese version was also translated into English by Samuel Beal and subsequently by Charles Willemen through Numata Center, America. The original Buddhacharita was also translated in Tibetan in 9th century which is also available in English translated by E.H. Johnston.
Bhavanath Jha has translated the complete broken part into Sanskrit verse which represents the original taste.
In the quoted verses below, Ashwaghosh has described the beauty of Varanasi in this word:
वाराणसीं सौम्य ततो व्रजाम्यहं निनादयिष्यन् निजधर्मदुन्दुभिम्।
न गर्वतो वा यशसे सुखाय वा दुःखार्दितानां तु हिताय सम्यक्।।6।।
(canto XV. Verse 6 in Tibetan version)
Vārāṇasīṁ saumya tatō vrajāmyahaṁ ninādayiṣyan nijadharmadundubhim.
Na garvatō vā yaśasē sukhāya vā duḥkhārditānāṁ tu hitāya samyak..6..
Vārāṇasīṁ= to varansi, saumya= O beautiful looking sage, tataḥ= therefore vrajāmi-ahaṁ= I am going.
ninādayiṣyan=drumming, nija-dharma-dundubhim=the drum of own religion, the Buddhism.
Na=no, garvataḥ=with ego vā= or yaśasē=to glory, sukhāya=for pleasure, vā=or.
duḥkha-arditānāṁ= for those suffering from grief, tu=only hitāya= for goodness sake, samyak= completely.
A sermon is hidden in this Buddha verse. When you give some explanation to someone, then there should not be any interference between your ego, your happiness and your achievement. These three things are bad elements in time of sermon of any teacher. The purpose of education should be to eradicate the ignorance of the people. When a teacher educates someone with ego, the teacher falls off his duty. Similarly, when someone thinks that my preaching will spread around me, even then his dignity disappears. Similarly, it is not appropriate to teach anybody for your happiness too. Therefore, the purpose of education should spread to knowledge, through which ignorant people can take advantage. Buddha’s sermon also had the same goal that he first came to Varanasi to get it.
Kashi, the city of knowledge
काष्ठे य़थाग्नेर्गगने च वायो रसस्य नित्यं स्थिरता धरायाम्।
प्राप्तिः प्रबुद्धेर्निहिता गयायां काश्यां च सत्संगतिरादिभूता।।12।।
(canto XV. Verse 12 in Tibetan version)
Romanized transliteration of the verse:
Kāṣṭhē ẏathāgnērgaganē ca vāyō rasasya nityaṁ sthiratā dharāyām.
Prāptiḥ prabud’dhērnihitā gayāyāṁ kāśyāṁ ca satsaṅgatirādibhūtā..12
Word to word translation from Sanskrit to English
Kāṣṭhē= in wood, ẏathā-agnēḥ= like fire,
gaganē= in the sky, ca vāyōḥ= of the air
rasasya= of the liquid, nityaṁ=eternally, sthiratā=existence, dharāyām= in earth.
Prāptiḥ= instate, prabud’dhēḥ= of enlightenment, nihitā=configured, gayāyāṁ= at the place of Gaya.
kāśyāṁ= at Kashi, at Varanasi, ca= and, satsaṅgatiḥ= good accompaniment, ādibhūtā= the first.
The relation between wood and fire is certain, where there is wood, fire can be burnt there. Relationship between sky and air is eternal. Relationship between earth and fluid is eternal. Hence land is also called rasã. Similarly, in the city of Gaya, the realization of knowledge is eternal phenomena. There were many Sages performing penance in Kashi, so Buddha’s first sermon and association was started with Kashi.
Romanized transliteration of the verse:
बुद्धेन दृष्टा व्रजता सुरम्या कोष्ठीकमध्यप्रमितेव काशी।
वराणसीविष्णुनखाग्रजाभ्यामालिङ्गितेव प्रमदा सखीभ्याम्।।14।।
सूर्यप्रभोऽसौ मृगपत्तनाख्यं शक्तिप्रभागौरवदीप्तकान्तः।
मुनिर्ययौ कोकिलनादरम्यं निषेव्यमाणं मुनिभिर्मृगाढ्यम्।।15।।
(canto XV. Verse 14-15 in Tibetan version)
Bud’dhēna dr̥ṣṭā vrajatā suramyā kōṣṭhīkamadhyapramitēva kāśī.
Varāṇasī viṣṇunakhāgrajābhyāmāliṅgitēva pramadā sakhībhyām..14..
Sūryaprabhō̕sau mr̥gapattanākhyaṁ śaktiprabhāgauravadīptakāntaḥ.
Muniryayau kōkilanādaramyaṁ niṣēvyamāṇaṁ munibhirmr̥gāḍhyam..15..
Bud’dhēna dr̥ṣṭā= seen by Buddha, vrajatā= while going, suramyā= delightful kōṣṭhīkamadhyapramitā-iva= like the inner part of a treasure, kāśī= the town of Kashi, Varanasi.
Varāṇasī-viṣṇunakhāgrajābhyām= surrounded by the river Varanasi (spelt as Varāṇasī, वराणसी) and Ganga, āliṅgitā-iva= like embarrassed, pramadā= a young woman, sakhībhyām= by her two female friends.
Here we get a historical information that the name of the river that meets with Ganga in Kasi is Varāṇasī. The name of the city settled along the Varanasi was named Varanasi. This city was full of grain and was beautiful. Just as the inner part among the treasures is the most beautiful portion, the city is also very beautiful. The tradition of saying Varanasi to the town between Varuna and Asi River would have started after the second century AD. We know that the present Varanasi city was last inhabited in the 12th century A.D. and its expansion spread to the south, where a small river would have been found. The name of that small river was kept in Asi and the Varanasi flowing in north side remained only to be called as Varuna River. But in Buddhacharita, it is indicated that the name of the river flowing in the north was Varanasi, and the settled town called Varanasi.
Sūryaprabhaḥ= shining like Sun, asau= that mr̥gapattanākhyaṁ=named Mrigapattana (also called (Mrigadava) śakti-prabhā-gaurava-dīptakāntaḥ= brighten by vigor, magnificence and dignity
Muniḥ-yayau= Buddha reached here, kōkilanādaramyaṁ= delightful with the voice of Nightingale bird, niṣēvyamāṇaṁ= filled up with habitant, munibhiḥ= by sages, mr̥gāḍhyam= full with deers.
This Kashi city was shining like the sun. In this Kashi, there was a place named Mrigapattan, where sages used to live. At this place the number of deer was more because sages did not commit violence and the deer was fearless and lived around them. This is a general description of the houses of the sages, which is found commonly in Indian poetry. In order to reveal this kind of feeling, it is also described that both the deer and the tiger live together around hermits. Nightingale’s sound is also a common symptom of the Ashram, which indicates the amount of fruits and flowers in that forest. This place was also brighten by vigor, magnificence and dignity. This is the ancient description of modern Sarnath, where Buddha delivered his first sermon.